Marriage Success: Skills for Creating a Healthy Relationship
John Gottman, in his book “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail”, points out four strategies for improving relationships. Most of us are not especially adept at these skills, especially when we enter into a significant life relationship, but learning them gives us a good chance to increase the success of both our relationship and our total life experience.
1. Learn to Calm Down
This skill is especially important when we need to deal with flooding, and it also allows us to stay objective in the face of conflict. Staying calm allows us to see the overall picture rather than over-reacting to the stresses of the moment so that we can access the more understanding and caring parts of ourselves. When we are physiologically aroused, we are prone to losing ourselves in the emotions of the moment – and that can mean allowing our anger to go out of control. There are a number of techniques that can help us to calm down –
- Take your pulse.
- Take a time out when things get out of control – a twenty-minute recess allows us to return to our baseline level of arousal.
- Change your thinking from distressful thoughts to self-soothing thoughts (“He’s angry now, but this isn’t about me”).
- Try deep breathing and try to capture some peaceful thoughts.
- Learn progressive muscle relaxation techniques – your therapist can teach you this.
- Aerobic exercise can lead to a calm feeling.
2. Speak and Listen Non-defensively
Deliberately make yourself have positive, caring thoughts about your partner. Focus on what is right in your relationship, not on what is wrong and needs to be changed. Share these thoughts with your partner through praise, compliments, and words of appreciation. This may be a difficult skill to master, especially when we feel irritated, but the reward to your relationship is invaluable.
3. Validate Your Partner
This means showing empathy for your partner’s situation. Let your partner know that you appreciate the experiences he or she is having and that you consider them valid, even if you don’t agree on a point. Take responsibility for what your partner might blame you for. It takes strength to apologize – but is it better to be right or to have a healthy relationship? Compliment your partner on his or her ability to make their needs known.
4. Overlearn These Skills
It may be relatively easy to try these techniques from time to time, but the clue to a successful long-term relationship is to use them daily and over the long term. These skills need to be automatic, and that comes from practicing them. You – and your partner – will be better off for it.
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D.,LMFT